Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Writing Life

Freelance writer in natural habitat

Being a writer has its advantages and disadvantages. Which, I suppose, is true of being anything – with the exception of being a herring. Everybody wants to eat you if you’re a herring. By way of advantages, it makes for interesting first introductions – we’re talking writer, not herring, first introductions for herring are usually fatal.

When I was working as a technical writer, it was apparent people had no idea what a technical writer does, or how broad a spectrum it can cover.

 “Nice to meet you, A.E., what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a technical writer.”

Really?” would come the response as if the person couldn’t quite decide if they should be impressed, or sympathetic. “And what does a technical writer do?”

“Well, I just finished writing the start-up and operating procedures for a hot lime softening unit with anthracite polishing filters as a pre-treatment for sodium zeolite…  Excuse me? HELLO? Are you narcoleptic?”

Technical writing wasn’t all fun, thrills and sex, however. There were the occasional trips into the seedy side of corporate operations.

“Ponyer!” (Author’s note: tech writers get little respect in the workplace; twenty-some years with the company and the Big Guy never got my name right.) “Ponyer, can you do any better with dialog than you do with operating procedures? We need to do a safety film and don’t want to waste money on a professional writer for the script.”

“Can do, boss. We wouldn’t want to waste money on professional writers. What do you have in mind?”

“The Safety Director has to make a video that has universal application. We need it to cover everything and all situations in the plant. Again, we’ve got a short budget and don’t want to make a bunch of individual videos. What do you think?”

“Simple. It can be done in less than a minute.”

“The hell, you say! Corporate Communications said it couldn’t be done at all.”

“That’s because they don’t think outside the box, sir. Corporate, shall we say, gets a little hung up on the glitz and glamour thing. Imagine this: Mr. Safety Director puts a blaze orange vest on over his three-piece suit, dons a hard hat and safety goggles, then looks deeply into the camera and says, ‘Just don’t do anything stupid.’ With credits, it’s under a minute.”

“Brilliant! By the way, do you own a video camera? Maybe we could save some money on the professional film crew.”

Having since retired from the technical writing field, when people now ask me what I do for a living, the reply is, “I’m a freelance writer.” Which has a much more cha-cha flair to it.

“Oh, that sounds exciting!” they gasp.

“It is. Particularly at the end of the month when I have to outrun the creditors. Some of those guys are fast, but I’ve found pepper spray slows ‘em down some.”

“Ever write anything I might have read?”

“You ever read ‘Mopey Dick’?”

“You mean ‘Moby Dick’? The book about the great white whale and Captain Ahab? Melville wrote that!”

“No, no, I mean the informational pamphlet they hand out in the public health clinic about sexually transmitted diseases.”

Hey, writing is writing, and it’s all good. And it sure beats being a herring.
Herring in their final, natural habitat. Being a writer is much better.
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  1. I'm a freelance writer, too. Sounds good, doesn't it?

    What does it mean, though?

  2. Freelance writing means you get to write all you want, and you don't have to worry about being in a high tax bracket. At least that's what I'm finding out. ;-)